For about the last six months, I’ve been trying to keep an eye on my training a little more closely. One trick I’ve found invaluable is to create a weekly narrative of my training that’s part of– but also separate from– the rest of my training data. Here’s how I’ve been doing it.
First off, if you don’t use a training diary of some sort, you’re cheating yourself. There’s really no other way to keep a log of past performances (critical for setting different training paces) and past workouts (key for ensuring progression). If you’ve ever had a coach, I’m sure that he or she has you keeping some kind of log– either in e-mail or preferably on-line. My coach used to keep my stuff in TrainingPeaks and I really believe that it is the gold standard of online training tools– but really diving in to what TrainingPeaks can do for you is the subject of a future post and not this one.
While a training diary is a great thing, I was finding that it was impossible to get an overall view of my training– and how I could improve it next year– just from my individual training entries. The problem is that each training entry is too specific and granular. Did I really plan that workout too hard or was I just having a crappy day? Comparing this workout (race) to the last similar workout (race), are things better or worse (and why?). I also wanted a place where I could put down ideas for how I’d do things next time or just ideas that I heard about and wanted to remember to try. I thought that a rolling weekly narrative would be much more informative for me when I was looking back on the week– and thus the “Week in Review” entry was born.
I’ll keep this post focused on TrainingPeaks because that’s the tool that I’m used to– if you use a different online training tool, you can modify the contents of this post to meet your needs. On the right, you’ll see the familiar TrainingPeaks screen (you can click on the image for a larger view). I’m in a running-only build now that it’s the pre/off season so my screen isn’t that impressive. TrainingPeaks lets you specify the sport associated with each workout– many are created automatically whenever I upload my Garmin data from my Garmin 620, but I can also create my own. Circled in red is one example of an “other” workout (not running, cycling, swimming or other sport that TrainingPeaks knows what to do with) that I called “Week in Review.” I gave a closeup of this entry as the thumbnail image at the very top of this post.
If I click on the “Week in Review” entry, I get the screen at the left. As “big ideas” or even “tiny general observations” strike me about my workouts during the week, I open up my Week in Review entry and type them in here. Again, I put just about anything down in here, such as new training ideas that I read about and wanted to remember. I boil the concept down to a few words in all caps and then describe what I’m thinking. Most of the time, it’s ideas about my training or things that I would do differently next time. If you’re a TrainingPeaks user, you may be curious why I put this down in the “description” field and not the “comments” field. The answer is that the comments field can’t be edited– instead, I’d have to add a new comment. This was a change added a few years back in TrainingPeaks to facilitate dialog between a coach and an athlete– a single diary entry could have a whole string of back-and-forth comments between coach and athlete over a single workout. My contrast, the description field can be freely updated and edited as you see fit. I keep my “Week in Review” entry on Sundays just because that happens to be the last day of the week on the TrainingPeaks calendar– otherwise, nothing sacrosanct about Sundays.
Every few weeks, I copy-and-paste my entries from TrainingPeaks into a table in Word (you can get a full-size PDF version of what it looks like by clicking on the image on the right). Each row in the table is one week’s worth of entries from my “week in review” log. Every couple of months, I print out the journal and read through it with a highlighter. If you’re like me, you’ll find that this can be a goldmine. There’s a tendency for us to get really excited about an idea and then move on to another great idea. Do this a few times and the original great idea gets buried and forgotten. Reading through your journal entries every few months makes it much easier to not forget those ideas. Also, as you read through your journal, you may find that your thoughts on a particular training strategy have changed quite a bit– maybe it didn’t work out for you or maybe it was just a segue to an even bigger, better idea. Lastly, as you’re reading through your journal, you’ll be thankful that you summarized your ideas in all-caps at the beginning of each new paragraph– it makes rereading your journal much, much easier.
So far, I’ve found that this strategy has been great for really improving my training. I’m remembering workouts that my body really responded well to– and some that were much more challenging. Just this last week, I noticed that I’ve been doing some of my running intervals incorrectly by looking through my logs– just this will save me a lot of needless pain in the coming weeks. If you’re not doing something like this already, it’s absolutely worth doing.
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